NewsArctic wildfire crisis: Climate change drives historic burn rates

Arctic wildfire crisis: Climate change drives historic burn rates

Fire - illustrative photo
Fire - illustrative photo
Images source: © Getty Images | Patrick Orton
Karolina Modzelewska

2 July 2024 15:57

This summer, the Arctic is grappling with some of the worst forest fires in recent history, triggered by scorching and dry weather, reports IFL Science. The fires spread primarily in Yakutia – a Russian republic in Siberia, where the average annual temperature is approximately -7°C. Although this is typically a very frigid part of the world, in recent years, this region has experienced surprisingly high temperatures and extensive fires.

According to the European Space Agency, as part of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), the fires in Siberia in June of this year released 6.8 megatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, ranking third highest in the past two decades (only surpassed by the results from 2020 and 2019, when CO2 emissions were 16.3 and 13.8 megatonnes respectively).

Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at CAMS, noted that there has been a significant increase in extreme fires in this northeastern part of the Arctic since 2019. "This is the third time since 2019 that we are observing significant Arctic wildfires and showed that this northeast region of the Arctic has experienced the largest increase in extreme wildfires over the last two decades" he explained.

Warning signs of climate change

These fires are closely connected to the overall trend of global climate change, which is causing the Arctic to warm at least four times faster than the rest of the planet. According to Professor Gail Whiteman from the University of Exeter, all these signals are a warning that the climate system in the Arctic is approaching dangerous tipping points.

Scientists fear that smoke from the flames will limit the Arctic ice's ability to reflect sunlight, meaning that both land and sea will absorb more heat, notes the BBC. This is especially concerning as the fires have moved north, where the taiga and tundra are burning, releasing enormous amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Simultaneously, on the other side of the Earth, in South America, fires increase, especially in the Pantanal, the largest tropical wetland in the world, spanning Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. According to CAMS observations, on the southern side of the globe, fire activity has reached the highest level in twenty years after an arid rainy season.

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